• Photo: Vinicius Tupinamba / Shutterstock

La Ciutadella and Barceloneta

Now Barcelona’s central downtown park, La Ciutadella was originally the site of a fortress built by the conquering troops of the Bourbon monarch Felipe V after the fall of Barcelona in the 1700–1714 War of the Spanish Succession. Barceloneta has always been a little seedy: the people who live here hang their washing out over the narrow streets; they will cheerfully direct you to the nearest tattoo parlor, or the eclectic bar around the corner that serves a great paella; they rent their flats to the rowdiest of low-budget visitors; they thumb their noses a bit at the fancy yachts in the marina across the Passeig Joan de Borbó—but like the folks in the Born, they are not immune to the recent siren song of gentrification.

Barceloneta and La Ciutadella fit together historically. In the early 18th century, some 1,000 houses in the Barrio de la Ribera, then the waterfront neighborhood around Plaça del Born, were ordered torn down, to create fields of fire for the cannon of La Ciutadella, the newly built fortress that kept watch over the rebellious Catalans. Barceloneta, then a marshy wetland, was filled in and developed almost four decades later, in 1753, to house the families who had lost homes in La Ribera.

Open water in Roman times, and gradually silted in only after the 15th-century construction of the port, it became Barcelona’s fishermen's and stevedores’ quarter. Originally composed of 15 longitudinal and three cross streets and 329 two-story houses, this was Europe’s earliest planned urban development, built by the military engineer Juan Martin Cermeño under the command of El Marquès de la Mina, Juan Miguel de Guzmán Dávalos Spinola (1690–1767). Barceloneta was always sort of a safety valve, a little fishing village next door where locals could go to escape the formalities and constraints of city life, for a Sunday seafood lunch on the beach and a stroll through what felt like a freer world. With its tiny original apartment blocks, and its history of seafarers and gypsies, Barceloneta even now maintains its spontaneous, carefree flavor.

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